Do you have bad memories of doing chores as a child (even age appropriate chores?)?

I remember picking up rotten apples from our yard that had fallen from our apple trees and being chased by bees! Chores weren’t a big part of my childhood and I paid the price.

When I went off to college, I didn’t know how to cut an onion. Or that tomatoes didn’t belong in the fridge. Or even how to properly do laundry!

I was lost and clearly didn’t do adult-ing well. Science even says that doing chores is beneficial to kids: one study found that doing age appropriate chores can help make your child more successful as an adult.

So, I’m a believer of teaching our children how to be productive adults through age appropriate chores. And what if we even had a little FUN while doing them?! Here are some ways to do just that…

Respect play time

First, respect your child’s need for play because for them, it’s serious business! In fact, children learn so much from play that you could consider it their “work.” That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also do age appropriate chores, it just means that we can’t have all work and no play. When their play need is met, they are more likely to cooperate with chores. I generally will play with my kids for 15 minutes and then ask for their help with work around the house.

Add in some FUN!

Who says that all chores have to be boring? You can incorporate fun into their work time. For example, play music while washing the floor and they can dance between squeezing out the mop (or lip sync into the mop pole!). Or, if they help you set the table, let them fold the napkins in unusual ways or serve sparkling water instead of flat. Griffin helps me send out our Birth Affirmation Cards and he gets to decorate the envelopes with sparkly stickers. Paloma gets to help send out these pretty Mama bracelets, which she loves.

Reframe the name

Instead of using the word “chores” you can reframe the work by calling it “community contributions” or “home care activities” or “family work time.” The point is, our children aren’t our little maids or work force, they are members of our household and we all chip in to keep the home running smoothly.

Let them choose their chores

A chore that is chosen is a chore more likely to get done. If it doesn’t make a difference to you, let them choose which chores they would prefer to do. This helps them feel empowered and gives them some “skin” in the game. Of course, there are always chores that no one wants to do (like putting away the dishes). In those cases assign everyone a “boring” chore and then divvy up the fun chores (e.g. spraying the glass table or going to the mailbox). Another benefit of doing it this way is that you may uncover some strengths or interests. Maybe one child is especially good at organizing while another likes more ‘active” chores.

Create a chore chart

Who doesn’t like a pretty chart? Let your kids help make it and decorate it with stickers. Write everyone’s names on the left side of the chart and the chores they are responsible for next to their name. Let them be responsible for putting a checkmark or sticker next to their finished chores. This helps kids feel a sense of unity and teamwork. Charts are also a great way to give a visual reminder to younger kids about what they need to do. It’s hard to remember everything! And if you want a more modular and less DIY chart, I love this magnetic one from Melissa & Doug.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Responsibility Chart With 90 Magnets

Make chores part of your routine

If chores are just “what we do,” then there’s less resistance. (And, if you’re implementing chores for the first time, you may come up against some resistance, but stick with it.) I usually have them do some tasks in the morning (after we’ve eaten and played!) as well as right after afternoon snack time. These are high energy times when their other social and physical needs have been met. Avoid doing chores when they are tired or hungry to avoid crankiness and resistance.

Model helpfulness

We are our children’s best teacher. They will do what we do (not what we say!). When you see them struggling with a particular chore, offer some help. This models compassion and empathy. Creating a respectful relationship will help your child learn to reciprocate kindness and helpfulness with others. A good phrase to keep in your back pocket is: “I won’t do it for you, but I’d be happy to do with you until you get the hang of it.” I also like to do my household work when my kids are busy doing their chores to show them that they aren’t alone and they aren’t my maids (while mom kicks up her heels and eats bonbons :)!).

Build in natural consequences

I would advise against using bribes or punishments as motivators for chores but you can build in natural consequences. So, if he doesn’t help wash dishes, he won’t be served food because there are no plates to put  it on! If she must put her clothes away and doesn’t, she may not be able to find her favorite purple sparkle shirt. Natural consequences help kids understand the reason for doing chores: taking care of the house helps make life easier in the long run!

Let them show you how capable they are

Chore time is really about educating your child on how to take care of themselves and the home. As the child gets older, the chores should become more difficult and take greater responsibility. I find that this actually incentivizes my children and they can’t wait to get to the next, new responsibility, keeping in mind that they still need to do some of the same old ones, too. With each new chore, you’re again teaching your children new skills that will serve them their whole life.

Paloma vacuuming on the porch
You go girl! Our three-year-old vacuuming the screened porch.

Age appropriate chores for kids

The key to raising kids who help out around the house is starting early with age appropriate chores. When they can accomplish a task on their own, they will feel more confident in their abilities and proud of how they can help the family. Also keep in mind that each child is different, so be flexible with what you can expect at each age.

Use the following list of age appropriate chores as a helpful guide when assigning tasks, but always personalize for each family member:

18 Months

  • Water plants
  • Practice sweeping dry messes with hand broom
  • Pick up toys and put in bin
  • Put books in a pile or basket
  • Put a few groceries on the counter at checkout
  • Dust low areas
  • Pull weeds

2 years

  • Place dirty clothes in hamper
  • Throw away trash
  • Put clothes in dryer
  • Put away socks
  • Pick out a few things at the grocery store
  • Get diapers and wipes
  • Get clean clothes from drawer

3 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Set the table
  • Carry own laundry (small basket)
  • Fold wash cloths, kitchen towels
  • Put away clean silverware (except sharp knives)
  • Wipe down exterior of appliances
  • Spray and wipe windows, tables and countertops
  • Prep age appropriate food (you can learn more about teaching kids to cook in this course)
  • Clean up room

4 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Feed pets
  • Get own drink of water
  • Prepare simple snacks
  • Scrub the tub and toilet with brush
  • Make bed
  • Bring in things from car
  • Bring dirty dish to counter near sink

5 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Clear dishes from table
  • Put away dishes
  • Replace toilet paper and paper towel rolls
  • Unload dishwasher
  • Match socks
  • Put clothes away
  • Mop floor
  • Get mail

6-7 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Take out trash
  • Fold clothes
  • Sweep floor
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Rake leaves
  • Make age appropriate meals
  • Answer phone
  • Help pack their lunch

8-9 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Load dishwasher
  • Wash laundry
  • Strip and make bed
  • Put groceries away
  • Pack their lunch
  • Make age appropriate meals

10-11 years

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Make a meal for family each week
  • Make all of their own snacks
  • Clean bathroom from top to bottom
  • Vacuum without supervision
  • Wash windows without help
  • Sweep basement/garage
  • Manage their laundry

12 & up

All chores listed above, plus:

  • Mow lawn
  • Babysit
  • Grocery shop independently
  • Prune bushes and hedges
  • Prepare meals regularly
  • Clean out car and wash interior/exterior

You’re making a difference, Mama!

While it can be easier for us moms to just do the work ourselves, you could be robbing your children of important life lessons. By doing age appropriate chores, your kids take some ownership in their home, feel like an important part of the family, and build their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. They also develop patience, learn about delayed gratification (YAY!), and may even work alongside their siblings in peace and harmony (double YAY!)

But more importantly, by giving your child age appropriate chores, you are teaching them how the world works, how their actions make an impact and how to be productive citizens of the world.  

(And your future daughter or son in-law will thank you!)

How about you?

What chores did you do as a kid? What chores do your kids do now? Tell us in the comments below!